By Brian Dautch
To understand that Oswald was a liar is not to necessarily say that he was a lone nut assassin. His frequent lies, many to government agencies like the State Department and the FBI, might have marked him as a plausible patsy. And his scheming and conniving might suggest that he was the sort who could be manipulated -- hoodwinked, turned into a patsy -- by people who were much more competent schemers and liars than Lee Oswald.
Oswald, born in 1939, had begun his term of enlistment in the Marine Corps on October 26, 1956, at the tender young age of 17.(1) A trivial fact on the surface, perhaps, but meaningful in terms of the chain of events set off by his military stint; many, including his half brother John Pic and his full brother Robert Oswald, presumed that Lee was attempting to get out from under the "yoke of oppression" of their mother.(2) Marguerite Oswald raised Lee alone, since his father had died suddenly, and did not provide for their food and clothing as well as she could have, and was exceedingly controlling.(3) It was not the first time Oswald would significantly alter his surroundings to escape persecution, real or imagined. In fact, it was this very same driving force which led Oswald to Russia, where he met his future wife, Marina Prusakova.
Oswald told Marina a series of lies well before they were married. Almost immediately, he told her he was 24 years old, the same age as another suitor of Marina's, so she wouldn't think he was young and immature.(4) Knowing Marina's family would not want her to leave Russia for America, Lee told Marina and her relatives that he couldn't get back into America even if he wanted to, having permanently defected. In reality, Lee had not fully renounced his citizenship from the United States because he failed to fill out all the official paperwork necessary for complete expatriation, so returning to the U.S. would hardly be problematic for either of them, especially since they were to be married before going to America.(5) To garner her sympathy, he also claimed to Marina that his mother was dead.(6) In fact, not only was Marguerite Oswald still quite alive at the time, she outlived Oswald himself by several years.
This third falsehood held special significance, because later Lee lied again to his wife about the circumstances of his dislike for his mother. Rather than explain his past to the woman who loved him, he merely brushed her off by stating that the only reason behind his anger toward his mother was that he didn't like Marguerite's treatment of Robert's wife, mentioning nothing of the difficult childhood he endured under her harsh rule.(7) In sum, Lee was forced to tell a lie to cover up an earlier lie, and the initial components of Oswald's web of deception had been established.
Among Oswald's possessions originating in Russia was something he called his "Historic Diary," an account of the time he spent in that country. The use of the phrase "diary" is a misnomer, however, since Oswald did not write up the accounts contained in its twelve pages until long after the dates he wrote on each page.(8) The Warren Commission noticed a number of anachronisms in the document, since some entries referred to events which had not yet occurred. Also, the exceedingly melodramatic tone (and title) of the diary indicated that Oswald was attempting to spice up the events to hold the interest of future readers. For instance, the diary asserts that Oswald was offered citizenship in the Soviet Union, but he refused; similarly, it states that he was asked to address a meeting of workers in Minsk, and that he humbly declined that proposal as well.(9)
Upon arriving in Dallas with Marina, Oswald had a chance to begin anew, with an utterly clean slate. His wife apparently felt no need to hold Lee's lies against him, since she was forced to rely upon him for everything. Marina could not speak English, and Lee was in no rush to help her learn.(10) Rather than deal honestly with some of the new people he met in Texas, Lee chose to continue his untruthful ways. This is the point in Lee's life when he began to tell a certain type of lie: the type which was absolutely needless and unnecessary. After returning to the United States, Lee seemed to lie at least as much out of habit as of necessity, to the point where it struck people other than Marina that Lee appeared to simply enjoy lying for the opportunity to conceal.(11)
In Dallas, Oswald met a man named George Bouhe, who helped him get settled in the new town, and may even have tided him over with occasional monetary supplements.(12) Asking Lee to keep in touch, Bouhe assumed that Lee would provide him with occasional updates of his whereabouts and employment situation. Instead, Lee would only call Bouhe from a pay phone every few days, mutter "I'm doing fine" into the phone, and hang up. When the befuddled Bouhe finally asked Oswald where he was staying, Oswald told him he was at the Carlton Boarding House in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. In truth, Oswald had never been there at all.(13) Later, Oswald would use Bouhe and others as references for job applications without their knowledge, and would usually provide the potential employer with inaccurate addresses for such acquaintances.(14)
Lee and Marina's infant daughter, June, became sick and had to be taken to (of all places) Parkland Memorial Hospital, where President Kennedy was taken after being fatally wounded. Lee felt he would be unable to pay the bill, and consequently told an incredible series of lies to try to avoid paying for June's treatment (which consisted only of brief examinations for the baby's fever of 103 degrees). He lied about his address, said he was not employed (he was, at an advertising photography firm called Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall, making as much as $1.50 per hour for a forty-hour work week), and that he did not receive unemployment compensation of any kind.(15) Finally, Lee received, and paid, a bill for only two dollars.(16) At this point, Lee's lies had now included his wife, those who tried to befriend him, and hospital personnel who only wanted to help improve the health of his only daughter. The web of deception was growing ever larger.
Oswald purchased two firearms in the year 1963, both of which would be implicated in the Kennedy Assassination and the subsequent murder of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit. In ordering the firearms, he lied about two major pieces of information, one of which did not seem to present Oswald with an advantage of any kind. When purchasing the rifle, he lied about his name, citing it as "A. Hidell" on the money order when sending away for the gun on March 12, 1963 to Klein's Sporting Goods in Chicago for the total sum of $21.45.(17) Hidell, which rhymes with the name of Oswald's political hero "Fidel," was the fictitious name of the only member of Oswald's Fair Play for Cuba Committee.(18) Prior to this, when purchasing the .38 special Smith and Wesson revolver cited as the murder weapon against Officer Tippit, he claimed his age was 28, when in fact he was 23 at the time. It was not necessary for Oswald to tell this lie, since at the age of 23 he was easily old enough to purchase a gun, and revealing his actual age to Klein's would not have been problematic in the least.(19)
Speaking of the aforementioned Fair Play for Cuba Committee, the information provided to pedestrians walking the streets of New Orleans also contained a number of less than truthful statements. First of all, the pamphlet, distributed in early June 1963, contained the name "A.J. Hidell," Oswald's alternate identity (rhyming with "Fidel," as mentioned earlier). Oswald would also have Marina sign the name "Hidell", who was "President" of the New Orleans Chapter of the F.P.C.C., on Oswald's so-called membership card.(20) Secondly, the pamphlet stated that "lectures" would be included in Committee Activities, although he would undoubtedly have been the only person doing any "lecturing."(21) Finally, the pamphlet by its nature, mentioning prominently the "New Orleans Charter Member Branch," clearly implied that the organization was quite large, when in truth Oswald was its one and only member. Now, Oswald's web of deception was growing to include people he did not even know.
Oswald was not reluctant to lie to the United States government, including statements he made to Agent Louis Quigley of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). While being held on the charge of disturbing the peace, Oswald asked to speak to an FBI agent, who turned out to be Quigley. Oswald told Agent Quigley about some very basic personal information which the Bureau knew to be false.(22) For example, Oswald lied about Marina's maiden name, claiming it was "Prossa" and claimed to have been married to her in Fort Worth, TX. When these comments are taken in combination with Oswald's reticence on the topic of the F.P.C.C. and its specific details in talking with Quigley, the interview essentially boiled down to Oswald requesting permission to talk to the FBI purely so he could lie to them.
Later in the summer of 1963, Oswald spent a good deal of time preparing, for the New York School for Marxist Study, a resume of his life and many of the activities it had (or had not) included. Often referred to as the "Revolutionary Resume" (for reasons I will discuss momentarily), it spoke of time he spent as a "Radio Speaker and Lecturer" (he was once soundly routed in a radio debate in New Orleans), his "Street Agitation" (a reference to the time he handed out the F.P.C.C. documents in New Orleans, for which he was arrested and soon released after a charge of disturbing the peace was filed), an "Organizer" (meaning, presumably, the one-man New Orleans Chapter of the F.P.C.C. itself), a "Photographer" (meaning the time he spend working at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall), a "Marxist," "Defector," and "Resident of U.S.S.R."(23) Later, Oswald took this resume to Mexico City, hoping to impress the Cuban Embassy with the qualifications it represented. Oswald wanted to gain entry to Cuba in order to fight for the man he often called "Uncle Fidel."(24)
On October 14, 1963, Oswald rented an eight-by-twelve foot room at 1026 North Beckley Street, in Dallas' Oak Cliff neighborhood, using the name O.H. Lee. At this point, Oswald was lying to virtually anyone who asked what his name was, including the landlady and manager at this particular boarding house, Gladys Johnson.(25) This is the house to which Oswald fled after the assassination, before the slaying of Officer Tippit. Not long after visiting this, his last residence, Oswald was lying yet again.
Oswald was questioned about his involvement in both cases between the afternoon of November 22 and the morning of November 24. Although many of the notes from the interrogation were destroyed, some of Oswald's statements were made on the record. Among them were claims that he purchased the revolver in Fort Worth, that he did not receive any packages addressed to "Hidell," at his P.O. Box, such as that which contained the rifle, and that he did not in fact, own a rifle at all.(26) When it was discovered that Oswald was not telling the truth with regard to any of these claims, the lies finally caught up to Oswald--the police and FBI refused to believe much of anything he said. Now, he had nowhere left to turn, no place left to run, no one left to deceive. Lee Harvey Oswald's years of lies had finally caught up to him. Everything he had gotten away with had come full circle, and he was seemingly paying all at once for a lifetime of deceit.
Had Oswald trapped himself because, when his penultimate scheme (to get into Cuba) failed and his life was "spinning out of control" (Gerald Posner's term) he resorted in desperation to the one final act that would give him the place in history he believed he deserved? Or was Oswald's love of spy games, aliases, and false fronts turned against him by people vastly better at that sort of thing than he was? Regardless, it is hard to avoid the feeling that Lee Harvey Oswald's web of deceit wound up ensnaring him.
1. MacMillan, Priscilla, Marina and Lee, Harper and Row, New York, 1977, p. 62.
3. Ibid., pp. 162-5.
4. Ibid., p. 80.
5. Ibid., p. 115.
6. Ibid., p. 80
7. Ibid., p. 98.
8. Davison, Jean, Oswald's Game, W.W. Norton, New York, 1983, p. 99.
9. Ibid., p. 100.
10. Marina and Lee, p. 117.
11. Ibid., p. 115.
12. Ibid., p. 205.
14. Ibid., p. 205, p. 312.
15. Ibid., p. 236.
17. Warren Commission Report, p. 119.
18. Ibid., p. 122.
19. Marina and Lee, p. 253.
20. Ibid., p. 324.
21. Ibid., p. 321.
22. Warren Commission Report, p. 436.
23. Marina and Lee, p. 364.
24. Ibid., p. 329.
25. Posner, Gerald, Case Closed, Random House, New York, 1993, p. 201.
26. Warren Commission Report, p. 181.